Trip: Mt Rainier - DC
My buddy wanted to summit Rainier before he deployed to Afghanistan next month. He’s an Army Ranger, a West Point Officer and a company commander of a Striker company at Ft Lewis. I was feeling pretty good about his ability and I had been up the DC twice, I knew the route and I was confident that I could safely guide him there. It’s the DC for Christ’s sake.
The only weekend he had available was Friday the 3rd and Saturday the 4th. The problem was, he had an obligation Friday morning that meant we would arrive late at Muir. And a late arrival it was.
We walked into Muir at 10:30 pm. Needless to say I knew we were in for a tough summit push. I wanted to get up at midnight and get ahead of the pack but we ended up sleeping until 1:00 to give us a little more rest. Then it took us a full hour and a half to get ready so we did not set out until 2:30. We were about 30 minutes behind the last rope. I was trying to be optimistic though. If we couldn’t get a head of them at least we would be well behind the crowds.
I told him we were looking at a 9:00 am summit, which I felt was a bit late, especially because it was going to be so hot that day. I knew the decent conditions would be brutal at the least and dangerous at the worst.
I felt our only hope was to make up some time and seriously push hard. We caught up to the trailing rope teams on the Flats and they were moving rather slow. We followed behind them to the broken up area of the Ingram Glacier where the traverse is over to the base of the Cleaver. I decided we would hang out there and let these teams get though the first part of the Cleaver to avoid them kicking any rocks down on us. Hopefully, we could muster the energy to pass them above the Cleaver on the Edmunds.
As we sat on our packs and watched them approach the Cleaver I told my buddy that I wasn’t really happy about our schedule. We would have to limit breaks and really work on making up some time if we were going to summit at a reasonable hour.
Then I heard the crashing sounds of a huge rock fall.
The other teams were about 100 meters a head of us at the base of the Cleaver. I could just barely make out the falling debris but headlamps where spinning in all directions. There was complete chaos and panic. We could hear people yelling and couldn’t make out everything they were saying, but “he isn’t responding” got my attention.
And then the second rock fall came… just as big as the fist.
It was a frustrating and terrifying moment. I felt helpless and was worried I would see a team swept into one of the gaping crevasses in the Ingram Glacier not far below them.
We could see one headlamp down off the boot track. The two-man rope in the rear began to hurry in our direction. We were already walking toward them hoping to offer our assistance wondering if a third rock fall would follow and what we would do.
As the team approached we asked them if the other teams were ok. They said they were not sure but wanted to get out of the rock fall area. The second slide just barley missed them as they ran out of the way. He told me the boulders and sheets of ice that fell where up to two feet across.
We asked if they thought the other teams needed help and they told us that there wasn’t anything to do. They had six climbers on two ropes and all were jammed in the bottleneck at the base of the Cleaver working to get the injured climber out.
We anxiously watched as the two teams recovered the fallen climber and slowly began working their way back towards us.
As we waited I noticed two headlamps on the Cleaver above where the rock fall had occurred. They were not moving. I don’t know if they caused it or not but we all had our suspicions.
When the first man got to us I asked if everyone was ok and he said one of them got hit by a rock in the jaw. By the time the injured man walked by us I was completely stunned by what I saw. His face was a bloody mess and I was surprised to see him walking.
They continued by us without saying a word. They looked like a family, three younger boys, a woman, a man and the injured climber who appeared to be the oldest.
After they passed we all discussed whether we should continue or not. We were all rattled and had lost another hour during this ordeal. Now we were looking at a 10:00 am summit at the earliest. I said that was just too late and we should turn back. My climbing partner wasn’t happy to hear that.
We then noticed the two headlamps that we suspected of causing the rock fall were descending the Cleaver. I said that was it, we are not climbing up there while they are descending. Besides, at the rate they were moving, it would be another hour and an 11:00 summit was out of the question. Our team and the other guys all turned around.
We also talked about waiting to have a “word” with these climbers but decided that it wasn’t worth it and we were all ready to just get off the mountain.
Shortly after we got back to Muir a helicopter airlifted the man out. I was actually impressed that he was able to walk all the way back down to Muir.
I asked the RMI guides if they knew the extent of his injuries. I don’t think anyone was quite sure, but I heard the first wave of rocks hit him in the back of the head and the second caused him to fall and smash his upper jaw into a rock and he lost some teeth. But again, I don’t know how reliable the information was.
Guiding my friend to the summit of Rainier along the DC would normally be relatively easy. But making the decision that took his summit away from him was tough even though we both agreed it was the right one.
Also, loosing the summit because someone else got hurt is selfish and we acknowledged that too. But, in the end we walked away unharmed and with new respect for even the most pedestrian routes.
The other guy had a much tougher day than we did. I hope his injuries were not as bad as they appeared. Our thoughts are with him.
Here is a shot of the Copter leaving Muir: